In the series of interview, today I’m talking to a generous actor,
Tell us a little bit about your training,
I’ve always wanted to become an actor. I started when I was fourteen in amateur plays. It’s addictive. Once you’ve set foot you can’t get out. It’s like quick sand. My first role was Mr. Colin in Georges Dandin by Molière, a really small part, but I didn’t care, I had lots of stage presence and I loved it.
Then I joined an amateur company called La Rigole, directed by Jean-Jacques Bruni. This man’s had a real impact on me.
We were all teenager in his company, but he believed that this was not an excuse for slacking off. He was demanding with us, but in a good way. There, I learned to be truly rigorous with my work. And I believe his teaching worked well because at least two third of the people that were in that small amateur company became professional in the business, whether actors or directors.
At 23, I got into the ERAC, the Regional Drama School in Cannes. It was a wonderful training. Through that school I met lots of professionals and was faced with numerous dramatic approaches. I got to experiments with so many theatrical forms so that afterwards, I just had to choose which one suited me best. What I liked about that training is that, unlike a regular Conservatory where you only have one teacher and then people can see where you come from, there I left rich with experiences but being who I am with my qualities and defects.
Was the transition between training and the professional world easy?
Quite easy for me in fact. At the ERAC I won the first prize, Edmond Baizary, which was a funding to be employed by a professional company. So not only this school gave me lots of contacts in the business through all the different panelists, but it gave me the opportunity to be employed really quickly.
I got a job in Marseille, with a Regional State Company called Chatôt-Vouyoucas.
I worked with them for five years.
With this company I had wonderful experiences, like going to the Athens International Theatre, and performing Oedipus Rex and Antigone in the Antique Theatre.
Besides working with that company I did TV and movies as well in the South of France. But it was only little parts.
I wanted to do more film work, but somehow it wasn’t really happening. One turning point that made me realise I had to move to Paris if I wanted to make that happen was when I had to shoot a short thriller teaser. The day before filming, there was a diner with all the production. I found myself next to the scenarist who had done my part. We got talking and he sheepishly told me that they had planned to do a wonderful scene with dialogues and cameras movements, than the production found out it was an actor from the South of France that was going to perform and not a Parisian and so told them to cut it really short. It was when I realised that if I wanted real parts in movies I had to go to Paris. Because, in France, movies are prepared, financed and casted and in Paris and any provincial actors, as good as he may be is not taken seriously by the profession.
So I decided to go to Paris and leave my cozy life under the marsillian sun and my work in a Regional State Theatre.
Was that move easy?
No! It was rough. As I had no agent, I could not access any casting. I found myself with no work, no housing, and not much contact. And you’re only an actor when you perform so it was a tough move. Lucky for me I’d kept in touch with Pascal Faber who was in the company La Rigole when we were both teenagers. He was working mainly as a director and offered me work. He was working in the Theatre du Nord-Ouest. The conditions in that Theatre are rather difficult. You don’t get paid much, if at all. But I didn’t mind because though it was not easy I was doing what I loved, I got to show my work and people came to see me perform. And as there are lots of different companies performing in the Theatre I met other people and created artistic affinities. Plus I learned autonomy, versatility and rapidity. All the companies helped each other. So there were times when I had to take up a role in a day or rehearse in front of a chair because the other actor wasn’t available to rehearse.
In 2002 we were doing Montserrat at the Nord-Ouest. An actress in the play introduced me to Jean-Philippe Daguerre. He came and saw me. A year later he offered me the chance to audition for a Molière he was putting on, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme with Ecla Theatre. So I left the Nord-Ouest and started working with Ecla Theatre, but when Jean-Philippe left Ecla to join Le Grenier de Baboushka founded by Charlotte Matzneff, it was obvious for me to follow him.
How could you describe your relationship with Jean-Philippe?
It’s a real meeting. What I like about Jean-Philippe is that he demands his actors to be energetic and generous. He wants his actors to be passionate when they perform, just like he is and I see a lot of me in his way of functioning. I’ve been working with him for eleven years now and I’ve been blessed that he’s been offering more challenging roles as the years go by.
What do you like about the theatre?
What I love about the theatre is the Human adventure.
And I love Paris. It’s electric city. There’s a lot of competition, it’s hectic, but I love the fact that you can’t fall asleep in Paris. There are a lot of projects going on at once. Two third of them are unpaid but it doesn’t matter because you do what you love. You act, you live the life you want.
Theatre isn’t a factory where I have to clock in. Theatre is a human adventure. I love when there’s a real company work. I’m lucky I’m working with people that value the human factor more than their careers. I’m not a courtesan, I cannot bow to someone I don’t like for work.
How do you approach a role?
I don’t really have a method. I go with my instinct. I read the play, I read all the characters. I read what the other characters say about mine. Then I just tell a story.
Technique is digested. I don’t dwell on it. It has become a second nature. After a while, you just go passed it. You just need to throw yourself with your energy and your heart.
Jean-Philippe Daguerre pushes you into a physical approach of the character. A lot go through the body.
Then you just need to open the valves and let the text go through you. You don’t need to overdo it. To force the emotion. The words are there, already carrying the emotion, you don’t need to add your own.
I don’t want to look for a state, it would be redundant. I just let myself be transpierced by the words. You have to be in what you’re saying. Then everything comes alive. Sometimes you don’t even feel the emotion. It’s the audience which needs to feel it.
What are the challenges for you as an actor?
I know I need to fight this urge to go and give everything all at once.
With Manon Montel, a director I also work with, I’ve learned retinue. She’s the counter point of Jean-Philippe Daguerre. With her, my work is all interior. I need to keep my emotion inside and when something comes out I just take it back to let the words go forward.
I like to go in places I’ve never been. That’s how you grow as an actor. It’s good to confront yourself with the unknown. Of course it’s scary because you have no more point of reference, it’s a risky situation like walking on a tight rope. In every new project I feel naked, a novice. Of course it’s important to be surrounded with kind people at those times. I don’t enjoy working in painful situations. I don’t mind being pushed around as long as it with benevolence.
You sing, how does that help in your acting?
I was a ball singer for two years before I joined the ERAC. Then during my training I was coached in lyrical singing. And that was amazing to discover what I could do with my voice.
My mother’s Spanish so there’s never been a family reunion without songs. We all sing even if it’s wrong with enthusiasm.
Jean-Philippe Daguerre did a version of “The magic flute” and offered me the role of Papageno.
It’s was fascinating to confront those two universe, the acting and the singing. Singers are much more rigorous than actors. Not that actors are lazy or slack off work, but when you’re a singer you have to follow a way of life that is truly strict.
In Jean-Philippe’s project the two worlds met and it was magical. It was the human dimension that was wonderful. We were all there to tell a story.
Papageno is much more an actor’s part. Of course there are Aries, but that character has a real thread, and in this version he’s the one going through the initiation.
The singing parts made me think more about my own voice. Last Summer I performed Cyrano the Bergerac and La Flûte Enchantée at the same time. And I realised that sometimes when I was speaking I was straining my voice and pushing my breath out too much. This is something you just can’t do when singing otherwise the sanction is direct. You lose your voice. So I had to think about the position of my voice, how to move from talking voice to singing, how to synchronize my breath with the words I had to say to be able to move swiftly from one to the other. And at the same time I had to keep the sincerity of the character and not sound like an old singer shouting the talking bits.
I don’t pretend I’m a lyrical singer that would be ludicrous. So in the Flute I decided to rely on my acting skill to perform that part, while putting all my heart and my sincerity in my singing.
What is ahead of you?
I have lots of projects in the future. I’m performing Cyrano until May 2015. We’ll be touring France and even going to Casablanca in Morocco.
I’ll be performing in L’Avare by Molière, directed by Jean-Philippe Daguerre as well.
In January 2015 I’ll perform in “Les Misérables” with Manon Montel’s company.
In the summer 2015 we’ll be doing with the Grenier de Baboushka a residency for the Carqueiranne festival, where we’ll put up “Le Cid” by Corneille.
I hope to do “Don Juan” in 2016. And there are still tour dates of Mary Tudor directed by Pascal Faber.
I’m lucky to be able to perform great roles. What can an actor ask for more than Cyrano or Jean Valjean? Life is good. I get to do beautiful things with wonderful people.
Thank you very much Stéphane for this wonderful interview.